Even though I’m back in the states, the travel bug is hard to shake.
I hadn’t seen Sam in well over a year, and we decided a get away to New Orleans was in order.
It’s a special city for us and it was close to Rob’s heart, so we thought it would be a good opportunity to spread the last of his ashes in the city he loved.
This ritual became a learning experience which I will now share with you:
When you are scattering ashes, they disperse quite efficiently. AND if you are wearing, say, cowboy boots, some of the ashes might fall into your shoes.
But you won’t notice, because of the hurricanes you drank.
So, when you take off your shoes later, those ashes might just end up in the bed, which makes for a gritty sleeping experience.
I left a big tip for the maid.
Also: they really don’t care what the hell you do on Bourbon Street. I left a trail of ashes from Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop to the Erin Rose. Rob would approve.
New Orleans is quiet this time of year, and much more comfortable. We took the ferry over to Algiers and wandered around, then rushed back to town get over to Cochon for dinner. Oh, my. We didn’t take photos of the food, because we were too busy eating it: creamy grits, pig’s cheek, black eyed pea gumbo. It was fun getting dressed up for dinner, and we met the most wonderful people!
We also took the time to have a shrimp po’boy from Johnny’s, and dinner at August and Le Petit Grocery.
And it was so nice to see my Sammy. I missed him!
Even though I’m back in the states, the travel bug is hard to shake.
My time in the UK – and on this trip- is ending. It seems like I just met Ahna in Oakland a few weeks ago, but it’s been a year. A year!
So I needed to see a few folks in the South before I decamp for Denver.
Mr. Waring again hosted me, and we had a fabulous night out in Hampstead. I don’t know that I ever talk about Mr. Waring without mentioning a fabulous night out. He just does them right.
Next stop Kingston, to visit Dr Jennifer Otter Bickerdike, and see my old friend Matthew Collington, yet another person I hadn’t seen in 30 years.
It was wonderful catching up with Matt- reminiscing about our time at Lancaster. We were impossibly young, weren’t we? But again, the essence of who you are is present when you’re 18, and still there when you’re 48. So we talked about music and life, and I hope it won’t be another 30 years before we see each other again!
I went to Jennifer Otter’s wedding a year ago, right before we launched our trip.
Dr Bickerdike and I have know each other since our heady days in the music industry. She is still a goddess of pop culture, and mistress of a mad dog. We went to tea at the Dorchester to celebrate her PhD. She makes me smile, and I am glad she’s my friend. Can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next.
Since I was in London, I made absolutely sure I was going to see Jess (she from Ayer’s Rock). We made plans to hang out Saturday, and it was one of those epic days. No agenda, we just bounced around London. Walked across the Millenium Bridge, stopping at the Tate Modern for lunch. The Thames River Festival was happening on the South Bank, so we visited the art stalls, stopped for a beer, chatted with a bunch of college students doing an art project. Jess was thrilled to find the gates to the Thames open, as the tide was low, so we wandered the banks of the river, skipping stones and picking up interesting bits and bobs. The Thames was London’s garbage dump for thousands of years, and if you look closely, you can find roman coins, bits of medieval tiles, clay pips, jugs, plates. If you want to get really serious, you can get a permit and dig, archaeology style. It was fascinating. We kept some pretty pieces of tile and stoneware, Jess found a cool star-shaped decoration (what from? who knows), and I found a beat and batterd horn handled utensil. It was a blast!
We wandered down to Peckham to check out the British Urban Film Festival, and watched a moving in an abandoned cricket bat factory. Such a great day.
Sunday sent me down to Alton, to see my heroine, Kath Phillips. It’s always such a delight to see her. She plies me with fascinating stories about her life. I hope I can be like her when I am in my 80′s. Hell, I need to be like her now! She ALWAYS goes for the donut.
Relentlessly upbeat, no regrets, a remarkable family and circle of friends.
Who wouldn’t want to be like that? Thanks again, Kath, for letting me invite myself to stay with you!
And now I am back in Liverpool, catching up with a few things here, attending birthday parties and football games. I love this city, and my family here. So a few more photos from summer in Liverpool:
Eat sardines, drink wine, and stop being so spoilt! Easy.
If it’s summer holidays in Britain, a visit to a warm, sunshiney place is in order, because as a general rule, it’s cold and rainy here in summer.
Jane had been to the Algarve before, and she figured it would meet our needs, so we booked for a week. Just the four girls: Jane, Phoebe, Meredith, and me.
The day before we’re due to leave, it is discovered that Meredith’s passport is expired. Awkward.
An emergency appointment was made, but not in time for Jane and the Bun to make the flight, so Phoebe and I went on ahead.
My first time on Ryanair. The put the “no” in “no-frills”. By the time we arrived in Faro, I was cramped and crabby. This was soon put to rest by the delightful Liz, our Glaswegian driver. She chatted about this and that and Phoebe and I nodded politely, because we had no idea what she was saying. None. I’ve gotta work on my Glaswegian comprehension skills.
Eventually, we found our way to the condo complex we were staying, at which point I threw a massive wobbler (like , Ahna in the post office-style wobbler).
Why? Well, there was no wifi. Yeah. I had to take a time out because I WAS IN PORTUGAL ON VACATION FOR RELAXATION. Idiot. After I had my stupid hissy fit, Phoebe and I made our way into town for supplies (mainly nectarines, delicious Portuguese bread, and wine).
We chilled and grilled chicken that evening, and rested up for our next day adventure of laying by the pool.
To break up the monotony of laying by the pool, we popped across the road to a little cafe. A soda and a beer set us back 1.75. Cool.
We sat on the front veranda and started chatting with two girls sitting next to us. They were Elsa and Erika, and the next thing we know, we are invited to dinner at their place. Well, we were still on our own until about midnight, so of course we accepted.
Oh, and we were so glad we did. Their family was warm and inviting. It was a mishmash of cousins and aunties, all headed up by the gorgeous Sonia.
We shared a delicious meal of grilled pork, salad and rice, and talked about where were were all from. Sonia is Portuguese, via Angola but lives in England with her little Daniella. Elsa and Erika live in Northern Portugal, and William and Angel live in Gambia. All were in the Algarve for a nice, quiet, lazy summer month.
We spent more time with them over our week in Vila Branca, and we hope we get to see them again. Soon.
After Meredith and Jane arrived , the serious sun worshipping began.
Remember when you were six, and a day in the pool made you lose track of time? Meredith’s whole week was like that. We splashed around with her and read and talked.
In town, we had grilled sardines for dinner, and the girls had their hair braided. We wandered on the beach.
Jane and I spent an evening out in Albufuera, had a tasty grilled mackerel and pickled carrot dinner, and after a few glasses of wine, we were ready for some karaoke. Spice Girls, the Romantics, and Mac the Knife. We brought down the house.
On our way back to our condo that night, it seemed like a good idea to take a dip in the pool. We ran back to our front door under cover of darkness, laughing uncontrollably.
Phoebe came downstairs to find us starkers in the living room.
She was not amused, but it made us laugh even more. I hope she has a friend like Jane when she’s my age: someone to sing with, to laugh with, to jump-in-the-pool-at- midnight- who- cares- if -anyone’s- watching with.
For a few days, anyway.
What’s it like seeing a friend you haven’t seen for 30 years?
It’s better than I’d imagined.
I’ve known Gotz since high school, when he came to Columbine for an exchange year. He was lanky and goofy and funny then, and he still is now.
Over the decades, we’ve only seen each other a few more times. I stayed with his family in Hamburg during a european hitchhiking adventure, and Gotz turned up in Denver during a legedary Greyhound bus tour through the US.
We’ve kept track of each other through our circle of friends, but it was time for me to see the grown up version.
Well, he has grown up (he’s taller than I remember!), but certainly has not matured. Which made for a very fun, very exhausting weekend.
I finally got to meet his family (his wife Almut is amazing- patient and smart and always laughing. I like that about her).
And I was very, very happy to see his parents. You know how sometimes you meet people, and they resonate with you for the rest of your days? Well, that’s how Charlie and Lore Gruber are. I am getting verklempt even thinking about how happy I was to see them. We caught up as best we could over dinner the first night.
Gotz took me to his office, which is in studio Hamburg. I watched a dubbing session, which was fascinating. We wandered around the city, hitting some tourist spots, and enjoying the outrageous sunny weather.
Next day off to the market for veg for dinner and to soothe our aching heads with sausages and beer. It worked.
That evening we went to a garden party, Hamburg style: lights and disco balls among the trees, four bands, grills for brats, beer, wine, endless choices of potato salad. Very cool, but we only stayed for a couple of hours, because it was Saturday night, and we were going to the Reeperbahn.
This is where I must reveal my deep shame: I did not bring my camera that night. What was I thinking? Well, I just spaced it really.
So, no photos if the thousands of people crammed into a square mile on a summer’s night. No images of the skeezy bars, the sex clubs (Sex! 39 Euros), the stag nights idiots and hen do fools. No proof that we were in the Thai karaoke bar, singing at the top of our lungs with the cast from the Lion King. Not one picture of the cops, the hookers, the barfers and unconscious revelers. You’ll just have to take my word for it- there’s no other place on earth like the Reeperbahn on a warm weekend night. It is a force unto itself.
A weekend with Gotz is a study in contrasts: Comfortable suburban home, remarkable family, delicious food. And then there’s the entertainment: decadence, carnivals, beer on the street.
Why did I take so long to visit? I can’t explain. But, oh, I’m going back. And next time, I’ll have my camera.
or: what I did during my summer vacation. While on a year long vacation. Hmmm.
I settled in to my home away from home in Stoneycroft.
Staying with Jane is staying with family. It’s shocking how long I’ve know her, and I shake my head in wonder as I drink beer and discuss politics with her oldest son. It’s been a beautiful summer in Merseyside, and we spend many languid afternoons in the back garden, watching the kitten stalk butterflies.
Being part of the family means going on holiday in Norfolk with the Woodwards. I’m ashamed to say that despite all of my time spent on this little island, I’d never been to East Anglia. Hell, I could not have pointed it out on the map!
Oh, but now I feel as if I’ve truly lived- riding bikes around Blickling Hall in the freezing rain, swimming in the North Sea, eating crab sandwiches and cockles on the beach. Sexy, no?
In truth, it was wonderful. A week of country homes, seaside visits, fish and chips, card games and wine.
Back in Liverpool, it was time for a summer project. Clearing out the cellar, and the attic. Heaven for me.
We attacked upstairs/downstairs, and ended up with more than enough to have a car boot sale. All the stuff (3 dressers, hundreds of books, teapots, assorted knick knacks) jammed into Jane’s car, and off we went at 6:30 am.
Six hours later, we had sold virtually everything, except for a few books, and Jane had 100 pounds in her pocket. If she hadn’t zipped so fast past the speed cameras on the way to the market, she would have been ahead. She’s such a rebel. But Merseyside police will have their vengeance. It’s expensive to speed in England!
Summer also means Glyndbourne, an opera experience like no other. We packed up our picnic and wobbled onto the lawn in our heels. Champagne and canapes pre-curtain, and more wobbling around the grounds in a vain attempt to find Roger Daltrey (he was there, but only Phin saw him).
The opera was La Nozze de Figaro, and it was wonderful. Can’t go wrong with a sunny evening in a fancy frock with champagne and great friends. I hope I get to go back soon.
So, early July was the last official day of our travels together. Ahna and her mom went on to explore the galleries of Europe, and I’m visiting friends and family in England and Germany and other places, maybe. There were tears. This is the most time either of us has ever spent with one person. And we still like each other! Patience, compromise and wine work wonders.
We’ve learned so much, about ourselves and each other. We’ve packed and unpacked hundreds of times, slept in 116 beds and met the most marvellous people.
This journey would not have been as remarkable if we hadn’t met everyone we met.
So thanks, to the amazing Gouviea clan, Alex in Fiji, the Hoggards, Shosh and Steve, Tyler and Chris, Dan and Mike, Anjeling and Harley, Hola and Moana and all the people at Haatafu, Vito, Georgia and Jacques, Scott, Anthony, Anthony and Jess, Merilyn , Effin Amy Fox, CHERIE! Captain Rich, Rito, Gisela, Brad, Ed and Kate, Jacob and Natsuka, Andrew, Larry and Joanna, Gorosan, Ed, Brian and Mike , Pirrip, Chad, Nick, Tim, Blair, Mot, Danii and Patricia, Shane, Sam, Cuong and Van and the anonymous semi driver who gave us a lift into Vietnam, Minh, Edward and Paul, hotel in Hanoi, Amorn Pomee, Cynthia and Phil, Ifde, Mr. Dev, RAJESH!, Mr. Gurpreet Singh, Ashok, Raj, Yoav and Tania, Anil, Serafin, Gilad, Romeo, Maarten and Jopie, Paul, Tristan and Tony, Lucy and Brian, Megan and Jeff, Mike, Kays and Toffee, Frank, Zack, Prudence, Mauveen, those cute little hitchhiking ladies in South Africa, Mr. Waring, Ian, Renee and Bryn, Jess and Ben, Nacho, the many Ahmeds, Alis, Mustafas (hopefully all safe in Egypt) Alaa, Sean and Yan, Lee and Matt, Lobna and Dr. Khalil, Paul and Amanda, Yusef, Joseph, Fateh, Karin and Daniella, Ursula and Lizette.
And the many, many other people who smiled at us and said “welcome”.
You made the world small and cozy. We can’t wait to see you again.
MB and Ahna
And so much cooler than Egypt. The breeze off the Bosphorus was refreshing with the tang of salt air. And there were no protests in sight. Just lots of cats.
We stayed in Sultanamet, in the shadow of the blue mosque. Muezzin calls woke us up in the early morning, and serenaded us during dinner. These guys do not have the same talent as at the Grand Mosque. The singing could be a little grating, and in fact, Turks and tourists have complained about it. When you can hear shrill voices coming from minarets all over the city, and none of them sound good, well, it’s worse than being at a Slipknot concert.
However, our hotel was wonderful, and we were a short walk away from the stunning Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Castle, and the sea.
The Hagia Sophia is a gorgeous mishmash of religions and architecture, and duly famous for its glittering byzantine mosaics. We were also enamored of the marble veneer on the walls. So cool.
We had the best of fortune to be in Instanbul with Matt and Lee (from our Egypt adventure!). We met for dinner and talked about how very lucky we were to have been able to 1) meet each other 2) see Egypt. We will meet again!
For some reason, the crafts in Turkey were especially appealing, and we found ourselves coveting carpets,spices, and tiles. It was very difficult to resist- those carpet salesmen are very persuasive. But, man, it would have been hard to carry. So we settled on a few pillow covers. Yes, we’re suckers.
While at the Blue Mosque, I saw a woman trying to take a self portrait with her ipad, and so I offered to take it for her (one’s arms are only so long, and it’s awkward to take a selfie with an ipad) Perfect, because then she could take one of me! We started chatting, and it turns out she’s from one of our favorite places in the world- Cape Town! Karin had been traveling with her daughter, Daniella, and we dragged her along to the palace, and then we all went to dinner that evening. They were just finishing up their 6 months in Europe, getting ready to head back to South Africa. We will see them again, too!
Although it was not on our list of things to do in Istanbul, we decided to try a turkish bath. We went to to the Suleymayan hamam, a very old bath house.
After checking in and donning our hamam-issued swimwear, we headed in to the bath, a beautiful marble room, heated to around 100. We lounged on the marble platform until our attendants came in. They sat us down, doused us with water, and started scrubbing with loofahs. Did I mention they were 23 year old men? It was fun.
After the scrub, we laid on marble slabs, and they poured foamy, bubbly soap on us. A quick massage, more rinsing, and then they washed our hair for us.
A few more minutes on the heated platform, and we were as relaxed as could be.
Turkish food is fresh: grilled meat, simple salads, grilled fish sandwiches with pickle, cheese, honey, olives. Fantastic.
Our last meal in town was at a restaurant down the street from our hotel, and we had a blast- the chef was drinking raki, and so was the staff. We laughed with the other guests, feasted on garlic shrimp, and said goodbye to a sparkling, glowing, wonderful city.
So, I’m reading an inflight magazine article by Paul Theroux. It’s about Egypt, and to quickly summarize, it said: “you can, and should, go to Egypt.”
Hmmm. I mention this to Ahna, and she agreed with Mr. Theroux.
Why shouldn’t we? So, we did.
Ahna used her super internet searching skills, and found a flight and a week long tour on the Nile, from Luxor to Aswan. On the Nile. The. Nile.
We were excited!
And with good reason. We flew to Luxor, and were whisked to our beautiful cruise ship. It can accommodate 240 people. There were 31 of us.
Maybe more people need to read inflight magazines?
With our own Egyptologist, we visited Karnak temple in Luxor, and the Valley of the Kings, where the desert heat made us breathless at 8 in the morning.
Tutankhamen’s little mummy was a surprise- desiccated, and sparkly, like he’d been rolled in Folger’s crystals.
We loved our fellow cruisers- Lee and Matt and Yan and Sean. The six of us drank mint tea, rode camels, complained about the weather, and laughed a lot.
Aswan was gorgeous: we visited a Nubian village and swam in the Nile, with nary a crocodile in sight.
Back in Cairo, we stayed at the Mena House, with a view of the pyramids from our balcony. It was, admittedly, a little surreal. The pyramids are magnificent, and we rode camels (two days in a row) around the site, taking ridiculous photos and spitting out the sand that blew into our faces.
We also had dinner with the lovely Lobna and her father, Dr. Khalil. They drove us to the Dandy Mall, and we feasted on rabbit and pigeon and okra.
It was wonderful to be able to meet Lobna (she works with my friend Bill), and discuss with her and Dr.Khalil the current state of their country.
Thank you Lobna and Dr. Khalil for a terrific meal and enlightening visit.
Visiting Egypt was harder than we’d thought it would be, because even though our tour company did its best to create a buffer for us, we witnessed a lot of unpleasantness: mile-long lines for fuel, grown men taking food from children, touts scrabbling with each other over our business, young men rioting in Luxor.
Things were starting to get tense, and our tour company insisted we leave for the airport 4 hours early. Okay, no problem. Cairo international was very busy- all the flights were booked with people trying to get out of the country.
The next day things went south for Mr. Morsi, and we were a little relieved to be leaving as the political state of Egypt became more unstable.
We worry about our new friends, and those who depend on us tourists for their living. Touristsshouldgo to Egypt, and I hope we can again, soon. The people we met were warm and friendly and invariably said: “Welcome to Egypt!”
And in the end, I really regret bargaining so hard with that shop owner for a few souvenir tea towels. Pretty sure that guy needed my fifty cents more than I did. Sigh.
“Nacho” is a nickname for Ignacio.
There is only one letter separating the spanish word for “comb”, from the word for “penis”. The spaniards think this is hilarious.
Leftover fascist habits make the train station ticket offices something close to the 4th level of hell.
Spain is all about eating, drinking, and art.
I joined Ahna in Madrid after a refreshing few days in Liverpool. I’d missed my English family.
However, horrible rainy weather in England made me look forward to sunny Spain.
Ahna’s friends (and my former neighbors) Jess and Ben, live in Madrid, so we had ambassadors to the city. We stayed in Chueca, a hip neighborhood full of tapas bars and shops. And tapas bars. Did I mention the tapas?
And artwork. The Prado. In every room, around every corner was a famous piece. Goya, Rubens, Valasquez, Bosch. I was so excited to be standing in front of “Las Meninas”. I am not ashamed to say I got a little weepy. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do? I mean LAS MENINAS! Holy cow.
We took day trips to Segovia, where the aqueduct casts leggy shadows on the town square, and the suckling pig is crispy and delicious and unforgettable.
Toledo was charming and hot, and my 5 years of spanish paid off while chatting with a restaurant owner. Nothing like affecting that Spanish lisp to convince the locals you know what you’re saying. Ha!
San Sebastián was as decadent as could be. They call their version of tapas “pinxtos”, and we think we gained at least two pounds in the short time we were there. Pinxtos are served at every bar, and they’re simply displayed on the counter. You eat what you want, and tell the bartender what you had. Ideally, stop for one snack and one drink per bar, so you can get a real sample of the offerings in town.
We managed the one drink thing, but ended up eating 2 or 3 pinxtos each. Iberian ham presented in dozens of ways, anchovies, croquettes, ham stuffed pickles, albondigas, peppers, mussels. I am so hungry right now as I type this.
It’s a good thing we didn’t stay longer, or we’d need new wardrobes for our zaftig new figures.
Barcelona was our last stop, and it’s, of course, fabulous. We visited Gaudi’s Guell Park and la Sagrada Familia and took a tour of the Picasso Museum.
The sycamore trees rustled in the breeze as we sat in a plaza and ate calamari lollipops.
If we had to rate the places we’ve been, Dubai would be trailing the field. It’s hot, dusty, charmless.
Unless you really, really want to spend a lot of money in the desert, there’s not much to recommend it.
Good photo ops, though! And the muezzin singer at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi had one of the most beautiful voices I’d ever heard.